Saturday, September 10, 2016

Clifford John Raymond

My wife took this photo. It perfectly captures Dad's good humor
and impishness.
July 27, 1932 - September 6, 2016

My father passed away unexpectedly this past Tuesday. He had been in and out of hospitals a lot lately. He'd gladly tell you he'd been hospitalized 23 times in 24 months. Every time he experienced anything happening in his body that didn't feel right, he'd call my step-sister or his brother Bruce if he was in Florida, or an ambulance and off to the hospital he'd go. Dad was far from being a hypochondriac, but he knew he was in his 80s, lived alone, and didn't want to die of self-neglect. 

Each time the facility would run its battery of tests, give him a clean bill of health, and kick him loose two days later. This visit was no different, in the beginning. Dad went into ER on Labor Day with a bad case of chills and fatigue that wound up being a pneumonia that had set in deeply over the weekend. But then we were told that an underlying lung disease was complicating things. Shockingly, it was the first time anyone in the family - including Dad - had learned he had a lung disease. 

In the end, nothing would bring his blood-oxygen up to survivable levels, and his body shut down very quickly. I was sitting with him in the hospital, talking to him clearly and easily at 11:30 Monday night. Just before 7:30 Tuesday morning, he was gone.

The blessing is that it was quick. The curse is that it caught us all by total surprise, tripling our grief. 

Here, for the record and for anyone who couldn't be at the funeral, is my eulogy. I feel like I failed to do justice to the man, missing any childhood anecdotes completely, but Dad never really talked about his life growing up. So I worked with what I had.


Dad, circa 1945.
Believe it or not, there was a time in his life when Cliff Raymond had hair. This young, redheaded, freckle-faced boy the entire town of Marion called “Sonny” loved to play and loved to eat. He tried to join the Army more than once during World War 2 and again when the Korean Conflict arrived, but was always turned down due to a childhood illness that punctured both of his eardrums.

He wound up marrying his high school sweetheart, Jane, and they moved away from Marion and struck out on their own life and adventures. The man you know as a devout lay minister with a passion to live and preach the Gospel wasn’t always this way. Christ was an afterthought early in their lives. Dad smoked, swore freely, and both Mom and Dad liked to drink more than they should at one of the local watering holes.

The problem was that they would drink too much and when that happened, well … Jane got a little flirty and Cliff got jealous. It was a bad combination. There were never any barroom brawls, but there was plenty of fighting with each other once they got home. Dad confided in me just recently that if Jane hadn’t died at 33, they probably would have divorced.

Cliff and Jane tried to have children. Oh, how they tried. If everything had worked like it was supposed to work, I would have been one of six siblings … all brothers! But Mom suffered from Juvenile Diabetes (what they now call Type 1), and it made pregnancies extremely difficult. She had one miscarriage, two of my brothers were stillborn, and two others lived for just a few days. They are buried next to her in the Marion Cemetery.

So they tried to adopt. They went through all the applications, all the background checks, all the rigorous agency interviews, and at the final step, they were denied. Jane was livid. Violence was about to ensue when Dad, who had been clued in on the reason, simply told Mom, “I’ll tell you later,” and got  her out of there. They had been turned down for adoption at the very end because the doctor doing the physical on Mom’s diabetic condition told the agency she would be dead within five years.

The fam, early in my life. I inherited
that gap in Mom's teeth.
Well, the joke was on that doctor. Jane lived for *10* more years and gave birth to me. I was born on a Friday morning – just in time for Captain Kangaroo – and taken directly to church on Sunday to be dedicated. Because Mom and Dad were Baptists; had been all their lives. And Baptists – despite the name – don’t baptize babies. We could only be dedicated to the Lord until we were old enough to make our own decision about baptism.

Soon after, Mom and Dad became more serious about their faith. And Dad found a steady job as a “Storekeeper” with the State of Michigan. He worked with office supplies, inventory, and requisitions for every government office in the State. He created new inventory and reorder systems … that other people took credit for. But eventually he became the Head Storekeeper and the job offered enough benefits and pay that we were able to move to a better home, even while Jane’s health failed. We moved to the house that Dad would spend the rest of his life in, and Jane passed away in September of 1969.

Dad and I did everything together over the next year. He took me to my first baseball game (the Tigers lost to the Royals), and we would “rough it” in a camper that fit on the bed of a pickup truck. As we’d drive, a bug would splat on the windshield and Dad would call out in a challenging voice, “I bet you won’t have the guts to do *that* again!” I’m pretty sure that’s where I picked up my love of puns. 

One day we had stopped at a roadside park overlooking Lake Michigan, and there was a sign posted that said, “Danger: Overhanging Cliff.” Dad couldn’t resist. Somehow he managed to climb up to the top of that sign, leaned over it, and mugged a menacing look while I snapped the photo. It was a fantastic picture and a beautiful, spontaneous moment.

And then we left that camera on the bumper of the pickup as we drove away. Never saw it again. But I still have that picture (in my mind).

Dad loved cooking on the grill. One night I brought a friend from school home unexpectedly and asked if he could stay for dinner. Dad said, “Sure!” and threw another steak on the grill. He definitely enjoyed using his gift of hospitality. Later his “chicken on the grill” became something of a legend among us family members. Colonel Sanders had nothing on Pop’s finger lickin’ chicken.

Finally, feeling so alone I would find him crying late at night, Dad began to date again and before too long remarried a widow, Hazel Dast, in February of 1971. Widow women were to become an important part of his life, later.

Mom Hazel and Dad, circa 2008.
Hazel became the great love of his life. Dad doted on her. Mom gave Dad a sense of stability, a profoundly delicious set of meals each night, and a circle of friends he never had and he gave her everything he could. Dad loved Hazel’s cooking. Her banana bread recipe was so good she had to make extra and freeze them for friends, and no one in the family has yet been able to duplicate that taste. 

When Mom had made a particularly good meal, Pop would sit back and utter a phrase that I’m sure many of you have heard. He was “sufficiently suffoncified,” but I’ll bet many of you don’t know the whole phrase, which Dad would pronounce to signify such a good meal he’d have to go sleep it off: “I am sufficiently suffoncified so that any further intake would be offensive to my most fastidious tastes.”

Cliff and Hazel loved to travel. They went to Hawaii with their best friends, and went camping a lot, almost everywhere across the U.S., really – turning that tiny pickup bed camper into a 24-foot fifth-wheeler, one upgrade at a time. They loved camping, fishing, deer hunting, and nature in general.

When Dad retired from his job with the State of Michigan, Hazel and Cliff rented a campsite in Texas and began to winter there, eventually selling that fifth wheel camper and buying an actual retirement home in the Country Palms RV Park in McAllen, Texas. They loved the people of the park. They loved crossing into Mexico - just an hour away - for cheap vanilla and would always bring home several bottles for friends. They loved the park “jam sessions” and Dad would often play his harmonica and sing. He became known for his outspoken faith, and eventually the park asked him if he would become the “Park Pastor,” which he gladly accepted. He and Mom would visit shut-ins, make the rounds of the park so they knew everyone, and Dad would get to preach on Sundays.

That desire to care for people continued when they decided to stop going to Texas and returned to Michigan for good – of course even before this part of their life Cliff and Hazel had become great Sunday School teachers here at Judson and would often hold card parties at their home. And they continued to visit shut-ins. Eventually a young pastor named Zachary Bartels was hired to serve here and he brought Cliff alongside him in many of the church ministries, the two becoming good friends. Soon Dad was offered a “license to preach” as a Lay Minister in the American Baptist denomination.  How Dad enjoyed that honor! He occasionally filled the pulpit here, and would preach periodically at a homeless shelter, and he loved loved loved every minute of it.

Then, in late Spring of 2006, something happened that would change the lives of Cliff and Hazel forever. A convertible full of teenagers pulled out directly in front of Mom and Dad like they weren’t even there. Dad T-Boned the car at 50 miles per hour. Guardian angels must have been heavily in abundance that day as no one was killed, though bones were broken and lives were imperiled. 

Neither Cliff nor Hazel were ever the same again. Hazel eventually became housebound, and Dad became her 24-hour caregiver. For five years they led a sheltered, slowly declining life, until Hazel received her promotion to Heaven in midsummer of 2011.

Dad had come to the Internet late in life. He didn’t even own a computer until he was in his 60s, and took the leap onto the Internet at age 70. Well, it was dialup so maybe it was just a small hop. After Mom passed, Dad discovered “chat rooms.” He fell in with a bunch of beautiful people online who loved gardening, God, and gabbing about what was going on in their lives. Every day Dad would send this group of “e-friends” a Scripture verse and a joke, then he’d post a photo he’d taken of something pretty. He loved the comments he got, and I think those people saved my Dad’s life, giving him something to look forward to doing every day.

Dad with his "harem."
About this time he also began to hang out with his other “widow women” whom he and others laughingly referred to as his “harem.” You know who you are – Jean, Jerre, Jeanie, and Donna – and I need to tell you that not only did Dad depend upon you for comfort and company, but he always looked forward to helping take you places, clearing up your “honey-do” lists, and the card parties. He loved the food you'd make for him, and loved that you gave him the comfort and space to lay down and take naps in the middle of your get-togethers.

Dad was never a social person, never a joiner; but he fiercely loved spending time with his family and friends.

Dad told me that Mom wanted him to travel after she passed. She said he should go see the places the two of them would never get to. The year that Mom passed Dad and I took a cruise to Alaska, and soon after I took an early retirement from the Postal Service, Dad and I began to travel in earnest. We went back to Alaska … we drove down to Florida, all the way
Our road trip to Key West.
to the Keys, and back home. We drove all the way across the northeast U.S., into Canada’s New Brunswick and on to Nova Scotia, including Prince Edward Island where we shopped at the “Anne of Green Gables” store. Eventually we went to Ireland together in the Spring of 2014.

Ironically, we were in Ireland.
That was his favorite trip, and he took SO MANY pictures. We had rented a car and I was driving – from the right hand side of the vehicle, on the left hand side of the road -- which made him extremely nervous -- and I kept hearing Dad gasp at how beautiful the countryside was, followed quickly by him saying, “Don’t look! Keep your eyes on the road!” We always talked about that trip, and about maybe going back one day.

I always told Dad that we had a symbiotic relationship. He couldn’t travel without my help, and I couldn’t travel without his money.

Dad, of course, was not perfect. He had his flaws.  The word “saw” was a tool in his workshop, and not the past tense of “to see.” If he wanted to tell you about something he saw, it was always, “Oh yeah, I seen that the other day.” But that wasn’t his only crime against grammar. The man never met an apostrophe he couldn’t use inappropriately.  Plurals became possessives, and possessives became plurals.

And he bore the cultural prejudices of growing up in the 30s and 40s … always barely disguising a mistrust of those with a different skin color, especially if you owned a motel and were charging more than he thought you should. But he was also trying to get past that with help from others. He knew better. And he knew that he needed to do better.

Dad at my son's wedding last August.
And Dad loved attention. Oh, let us not deny that. If you were a stranger and met Cliff, you’d know his entire health history, where he’d traveled, and what he’d seen for the last two years within five minutes. He and I had several arguments about the proper way to meet new people. “It’s really not all about you, Dad. Not yet.”

Dad should have sold insurance, because in most everything he did, there was a “backup plan.” He carried TWO wallets. He wore a belt *and* suspenders. He would put Downy fabric softener in the washing machine, and a Bounce dryer sheet in the dryer. He had a digital clock on his DVR and an old analog clock with a battery sitting right next to it in case the power went out.  

He went to bed about 7:30 at night. He’d be back up at midnight checking his email and Facebook. That’s right, Dad joined Facebook and proceeded to violate nearly every social convention you could think of. He posted terribly intimate personal details … on status updates of people he didn’t even know because he saw you had left a comment and he wanted you to know about his thing. Dad hijacked more status updates than an air marshal could stop. For him, Facebook was just a different version of eMail. And he never understood that the entire world could see what he was writing. If he did understand, he just didn’t care.

He’d get up at 5:00 in the morning, and if you weren’t ready to eat by 6am, he began setting the table for breakfast – LOUDLY. He’d bang the pots and pans while he heated the water for coffee. He's not using pots and pans to heat water for coffee, but he'd bang them. Then he’d apologize and ask if he woke you when you came out of the bedroom.

Dad was always a creative type. He went to Ferris State University to study art but dropped
Dad and I in 2013.
out because he couldn’t afford it. I have a lovely charcoal drawing of a still life with fruit in my home. Throughout his life, he would create stuff. He took some surplus telephone wire he’d found and made tiny animal sculptures with it. He took horseshoe nails and turned them into cross necklaces. Some of you may have one. The bolo tie you saw him wearing today was one of his own creations. He made his own greeting cards on a computer program; some of you received those. 

He was well known for giving new life to old mechanical items, salvaging them for another few years of use. His fixes tended to be ugly and look cheap, but the stuff worked and kept on working and he hardly ever charged for the repairs.

Dad once wrote a novel. I bet most of you didn’t know that. It was a Cowboys and Indians story. He only showed it to me once, and he never tried to have it published.

Both Dad and Mom loved to read. Mom would read romance novels, Dad would read westerns and historical fiction. He has pretty much the entire library of Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey at home. In fact, he pretty much has an entire library. There are bookshelves overstuffed in almost every room and if the house ever caught fire, it would burn for days.

Dad, in one of the last pictures
ever taken of him, with newest
great-granddaughter, Bailey.
I cannot wrap this up without mentioning his love of a bargain. Getting quality merchandise for cheap “pleases me old Scottish ancestors,” he would say. This led to his love of yard sales. He and Mom held some doozies in their day. He got to be so good at setting up and organizing yard sales that he told me lately he could have made a second career out of being a consultant for that. And it didn’t matter where you were going or what time you had to be there, if he saw a sign advertising a yard sale, you betcha he was going to stop.

I think he and Mom furnished at least two rooms of their home with yard sale merchandise; if not furnished, at least heavily decorated. “Yard Sale-ing” was one of his favorite hobbies and one which age and time could not diminish. If there’s a yard sale on the way to the cemetery, be ready to stop for a few minutes.

Toward the end of his life, he became more impetuous in his decision-making. Perhaps he knew he didn’t have many years left. Three years ago, he calls me up on a Tuesday late in September and says, “I’m tired of winter in Michigan. I’m ready to be a snowbird again; this time in Florida. Could you see if you can find a place for me?”

On Thursday I get a call: “I think I found a place. Could you look it over and see what you think?”

On Saturday, the call comes in: “So I made an offer on the place.” Monday we make travel reservations, fly to Florida on Thursday, buy a mobile home in Zephyrhills on Friday.

A year later, I get an email: “If I buy a second trailer here, would you move in?” Before I can even talk seriously to my wife about this, I get a second email the next day: “So I bought the place.” (insert gesture of frustration)

But my Dad was perhaps most famous for being early. If you asked him to arrive at 10 a.m., he’d be there by 9:15. If he said he would pick you up at 7 o’clock, you had better be ready by 6:30. The man was notorious for this. Even in death. His doctor told him his health was good enough he wouldn’t die for another 8-10 years. We should have known; Dad arrived early.

Let me close by saying that if Cliff were standing here, looking back on his life, he would say he was “sufficiently suffoncified.”
In Waterford, Ireland.

Dad's obituary can be read here.

Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. There are never any endings, only beginnings in disguise.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

R.I.P, Muhammad Ali

Cassius Marcellus Clay, Junior was born in January of 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. He began training to become a professional boxer at age 12. At age 22, he defeated Sonny Liston in a stunning upset to become the world heavyweight champion. Shortly afterward, he joined the nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He was convicted as a draft dodger in 1967, when he refused to enter the military as a conscript, citing his new religious beliefs. It took four years, but his case eventually went to the Supreme Court, where his conviction was overturned. 

He fathered nine children, won three heavyweight boxing titles, and won an Olympic Gold Medal for boxing in 1960. He nicknamed himself "The Greatest," and was not afraid to talk openly about being a black man in a white man's world as well as other racial and religious issues. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1984 and he passed away in Arizona this past Friday, June 3. 



"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."

Monday, February 08, 2016

Super Bowl 50: My Favorite Ads

So once again the good people over at Ad Meter (affiliated with USA Today) asked me to be on their panel and rate the 60+ commercials running on this year's Super Bowl telecast.

You can see which ones were voted the best over at the Ad Meter site. This year the panel and I were in fairly close agreement, though only one of the two I thought earned top marks (as opposed to four last year) ended up in the Top Ten. The other was in the top fifteen, however.

By the way, you can see how I rated last year's commercials in this old post.

Of the 63 ads I rated, two were perfect 10's, knocking the ball out of the park with creativity, pathos, identification, product memory, and just sheer quality. To earn a perfect score, the commercial had to move me in some way - let me clarify, some *positive* way - be creative and be produced with quality, and it had to leave me with a good feeling (and a clear image) of the company that made the product.

Four others received "Honorable Mentions" from me, rating a "9" on my scale and lacking only one detail that kept it from being perfect. Nine other ads I was able to rate an "8" and I'm happy to say that of those 15 commercials I thought were the best of the bunch, 13 of them wound up in the top 20 over at the Ad Meter results page (listed above).

Here, then, are my Top 5:

#5: Budweiser's "Simply Put" featuring Helen Mirren

This was one of those commercials that popped up all over social media several days before the game and the weight of its viral release nearly took it under for me, but I'm a sucker for a good actress with a British dialect and a large vocabulary. Hopefully it will bring the word "pillock" (a stupid person, but don't ask about the etymology) back into common use. And Budweiser has promised to donate $1 toward designated driver programs each time the hashtag #GiveADamn is used in promoting an end to drunk driving.

#4: Hyundai's "First Date" featuring Kevin Hart

Personally, I find Kevin Hart's comic persona a little too abrasive but here he dials it back just enough to connect with me and I love the way the commercial ends. Couldn't give it a perfect score because I couldn't remember the name of the car (or even the manufacturer). The storyline overshadowed the feature it was trying to promote. But it came out as #1 overall so Hyundai did something right.

#3: Honda's "A New Truck to Love" featuring music by Queen

It's got the cute factor, killer music by Queen, and a nice little twist at the end. Ad Age Magazine says the ad agency studied the facial muscles of the sheep to more perfectly form their special effect singing. The little detail that kept me from scoring it perfectly was I couldn't remember the name of the truck. It's Honda's new Ridgeline brand, by the way.

#2: Jeep's "Portraits"

There seems to be that one commercial in every Super Bowl that tugs at your patriotic heartstrings. One that makes you proud you live in America. Jeep holds that title this year, marking their 75th anniversary as both a company and an American icon. It's shot in gorgeous black and white with extreme close ups that immediately engage you and make it impossible to look away. I gave it a Perfect Ten.

#1: Audi's "Commander" featuring music by David Bowie

Maybe it's the fact I have an 83-year old father. Maybe I'm still in mourning over David Bowie's death. Maybe it's the glorious production values and juxtaposition of memories over real time experience. Maybe it's that I'll never drive a $116,000 sports car. I dunno. But this ad hit all the right notes for me. I've given you the extended version here to fully appreciate it.

I can't sign off without confessing I also had a real soft spot for the rewritten lyrics of Seal's "Kiss from a Rose" in this Super Bowl Babies NFL promo spot. And the extended version of the Avocado commercial.

And just because someone will want to know, the worst Super Bowl ad was so bad I won't link to it, but let me just say three words: Puppy Monkey Baby. 

I will never be able to unsee that. Woof.


Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. I also greatly enjoyed "Ryanville" and the "Walken Closet" ads.